Let me begin by saying I’m really excited!!! We’ve received some very generous donations for The Christmas Box International totaling $525 and raising the total to $3,025. This means we’ve raised over 30% of our goal!!! Thank you to everyone who has contributed. You are Angels!!! Also note every donation makes a real difference no matter how big or small. If you want to contribute, you can donate here. Every penny goes to CBI and you can learn more about the charity here.
Day 8 – 11: Barrel Spring to Mike’s Place
Miles 101.1 – 127.3
As I approached Warner Springs, I was rewarded with some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen. Descending from the rolling hills, the trail leads to miles of meadows filled with wild short grass displaying a slight reddish hue and blowing in the wind. Within these fields lies Eagle Rock, a fitting name for a really cool rock cropping. The trail then morphs from prairie winding its way along a stream canopied by grand oak trees that welcome you to the town of Warner Springs.
Warner Springs is a fairly barren town offering little of interest to hikers other than a community center, a post office, a gas station, and a golf course. It was here I took my first “Zero Day.” A Zero is exactly as the name suggests. A day without hiking. A day to rest your battered body. A day to do errands like shower, wash the filth from your clothes, resupply, contact family and friends, and catchup on the blog. Although a day in town offers a chance for rest, I often find it more stressful than trail life as you’re quite busy trying to accomplish everything.
The Warner Springs Community Center is located at the school and was a treat offering bucket showers, restrooms, and a place to camp. While camping I met a fellow hiker, Francois. I’d first met her at the campgrounds in Mt. Laguna.
Francois is a lovely Swiss woman who I’ve had the pleasure to hike and camp with for the last couple of weeks. Although I’ve only known her a short time, our friendship has blossomed. I find her very reassuring and seeing her always brings a smile to my face. It’s odd how you can know someone for such a short period of time but feel like you’ve known them for ages. I know no matter what lies ahead or what troubles me, I have a friend that understands.
I spent the remainder of my time in Warner Springs eating greasy burgers at the golf course, trying to find a hole in my sleeping pad (a problem still plaguing me 2 weeks later) and resting my weary body. Most of my pains had slowly subsided, however my right foot and ankle have become a concern. The ankle became inflamed after trail running down the mountain to Scissors Crossing and continues to be a nuisance daily. My primary response has been to ignore the pain but I’m finding this to be insufficient treatment.
The next couple of days offered sweltering heat as the trail climbed back into the high desert. Once again, hiking from one water hole to the next while taking midday siestas to avoid the heat were the norm.
Day 12: Mike’s Place to Walden
Miles 127.3 – 145.4
I arrived at Mike’s Place hot, tired, and out of water. I was greeted by a huge water silo with signs indicating water needed to be treated and instructions to walk down to the house to rest. After filtering a few liters of water to carry me through the beginning of the next days hike, I sauntered down the road to the house unprepared for the scene ahead.
Mike wasn’t home but Josh was taking care of the place. As I approached, I could see Josh working on an old car in the yard. The place looked like a scene ripped out of the game Borderlands. Remnants of something looking like a rail gun, weight sets, and misc. furniture littered the yard. After unloading my pack and a short rest, Josh offered to cook tacos with hot dog meat. Not a meal, I’d had previously but something I was delighted to eat. We finished eating and prepared for bed. For the first time in my life, I’d cowboy camp (sleep under the stars with no tent). It was a beautiful night and other than needing to wake up several times throughout the night to reinflate my sleeping pad I slept well.
As usual, I awoke the next day in good spirits. The day would be anchored by 2 climbs with a couple water sources in between. I was looking forward to getting to the town of Idyllwild in a couple days and trading in my leaky sleeping pad for a real bed, the first I’d have in 2 weeks. I’d been warned a snow storm was scheduled to hit at the same time I’d be arriving and that hotels were filling quickly. As I made the ridge I could see a distant town. Checking my phone I noticed I had phone service but no internet. I phoned my family and asked if they could find me a room. They happily obliged and I was thrilled at the prospect of not being left in the cold.
I began the descent to Tule Spring, the first water source of the day. Along the way I saw a man carrying a gallon jug of water. My inner voice said “Idiot. Who carries jugs of water while backpacking?” I raced by and arrived at Tule mid-morning. The stream was half a mile off-trail down a steep road. Passing some fellow hikers, I was warned the water was bad and that someone had defecated upstream. The next potential water source was a few miles up the road but the sweltering heat had depleted my water leaving me no choice but to take water.
When I arrived, my heart sank. I was disappointed to find an orange stream trickling down the hill. After filtering a small amount I tasted the water, and was disgusted by the iron flavoring reminiscent of a bloody nose. I finally had the answer to the question “what tastes better, green water or orange?” I longed for the days of drinking from horse troughs. I added Aquatabs to cleanse the water, and Nuun electrolytes to hide the flavor before setting off for the next water hole. I made a couple miles again passing the man with the water jug who was now taking a nap. I shook my head as I continued on until I found a nice shady patch for my afternoon siesta.
After a couple hours of enjoyable rest, I was ready for better water and took to the trail. I arrived at a water cistern that looked like a 6′ x 8′ cement tomb. A hole on the top of the cistern revealed green oily water a couple feet lower. It was apparent the structure could collapse if I stood too close so I laid on my stomach as I tried to dip my water bottle. Feeling the cement crumbling under my weight, I backed away. Thoughts of Indiana Jones trying to retrieve the golden chalice filled my head.
Desperate for water, I began brainstorming how to proceed. Looking around, I found some string which I tied to my Smart Water Bottle. I thought I may be able to drop the bottle into the water to fill it up. Epic fail! Regardless of how hard I dropped the bottle, it simply floated on top. I was unwilling to place rocks into the bottle to weigh it down. You have to understand, I only had 1 bottle and it’s vital to my survival. No bottle, no filtering. No filtering, no water.
I continued looking for solutions and found one end of the cistern had a 1′ opening on the side. The opening contained bars giving the appearance of a jail cell, but 2 bars had been bent just wide enough to crawl through. The opening sloped down to the water and I realized I would need to crawl in head first. I took a deep breath and proceeded. I could just reach the water, my torso lying in the sarcophagus my legs resting outside. I began to dip the bottle, only to be horrified that the bottle slipped off the string and floated to the far side of the cistern.
For a split second and the first time on this adventure I panicked. I felt doomed. Crawling out, I quickly regained my composure. I grabbed my hiking poles and was easily able to fish out the bottle. I had my bottle but I was defeated. My Holy Grail was lost, my spirits dashed.
I still had 2 liters of water but the water had already been making me feel nauseous and I still had 6 miles to hike with a big climb on one of the hottest days of my trek. I normally drink 7 liters of water/day on a cooler day so I knew it was going to be a tough day. Your mind can mess with you when you get rattled. I started rationing water only taking sips large enough to wet my mouth. Again I passed the man with the jug taking another nap in another area. The tone of my inner voice changed as it said, “now who’s the idiot?”
Halfway up the second climb of the day, the fear of being alone in the desert and running out of water convinced me I should only hike when the few passing clouds provided shade. After one such shade hike, the cloud cover subsided and I came across 2 closely placed rock fins providing excellent shade. I was greeted by a woman and asked if I could share the shade as I didn’t know if I could finish the climb under the sun with the water I had. Her response, “sure I’m just leaving. I know what you mean, the water I’m carrying is soooo heavy.” With that, she was off. My inner thoughts thinking “NO, NO you don’t know what I mean. I’m going to die from thirst and you have too much water.”
Resigned to my fate, I slumped to the ground. After awhile, I decided to check how much water I had. I still had 1.5 liters and was halfway done with the last climb. I’d been convinced I’d had half a liter. Although still sick from drinking the Tule water, I realized I had enough water and began climbing again.
The day had one more trick to play on me. Finishing the climb, I still had a few miles to hike to a possible water cache where I planned to camp. I passed a sign that said “Trail magic. Water 1 mile” with an arrow pointing away from the trail. I thought about leaving the trail but decided it didn’t make sense for water to be in that direction. I continued a mile down the trail and found a cache of water jugs. My heart lept. However after further inspection, I saw every jug was empty. I kicked the pile of jugs. Disappointment again. There was a hiker log on a shelf next to the scattered jugs. Reading the log I saw a half dozen hikers thanking the Angels for the water. They’d all dated the book that day. There were probably 30 3-liter jugs scattered about. I checked every last jug and found a few with a mouthful of water. Ripping off the plugs I sucked out every last drop. I restacked the jugs and continued on my way.
Day 13 – 15: Walden to Idyllwild
Miles 145.4 – 179.4
I arrived at Walden around dusk and was greeted by hikers I’d seen at Mike’s. They informed me there was soda in the cooler. I croaked “WATER,” and they pointed me towards a 500 gallon tank of water. I was overjoyed as I stumbled towards the magic.
That night I’d meet Mary. She owned the land and I’d learn she stocked the area with soda, hard candy and water every week. She’d manually fill up water jugs from her well down the road, drive up to the tank and fill it up by hand, 4 liters at a time. I cannot adequately express how much love I have for Angels like Mary.
I’d also meet Julia from Germany and Christine from Switzerland that evening. I’d met them in passing at Tule Stream but hadn’t said more than a few words. We spoke a bit over dinner before retiring to bed. As I was the last hiker to arrive, there were no flat spots for a tent so I opted to cowboy camp again.
The next morning I hurried down the mountain. There’s a diner called Paradise Cafe that was supposed to have good food and I was anxious to put the previous day behind me. I met Julia and Christine at the bottom of the mountain and we decided to walk the mile to the cafe together to share breakfast. The food was exquisite.
The trail had a fire closure and most hikers were opting to hitch into town. They’d skirt the closure but miss 15 miles of the trail. I didn’t want to do that and wasn’t surprised Christine was going to hitch. She’d been dealing with bad blisters and wanted the rest. I was surprised when Julia decided she’d wanted to hike 15 miles back up the mountain with me. I’d hiked most of the first 2 weeks alone and was a bit shocked that this lovely woman I’d just met wanted to hike out with me. I’d never met a woman (or a man) that would want to do a challenging hike into the middle of nowhere with someone they’d just met. I love this trail!!! I love the people on this trail!!!
After a hearty breakfast, we set off. We had a nice lunch break under a giant ponderosa pine before starting the crux of the climb. Julia was fit for the challenge. Although this trail has a lot of hikers that can crush me, I hadn’t hiked with one yet. We hiked hard and fast for 5 hours, stopping only when I needed to refill water. By the time we’d hit what must have been the 5th or 6th ridge, the sun was setting and we were ready to make camp. We’d meet a day hiker that night who hiked out with us the next morning. He gave us a ride from the fire closure to Idyllwild.
Julia had a room that night, so we said goodbye and decided to catchup again down the road. I’d spend that night at the Idyllwild Campground where I’d randomly pitch my tent next to Francois. I hadn’t seen her in a few days and it was great to be reunited. We woke to snow covered muddy tents and I’d spend the morning washing clothes at the laundry while I waited for my room at the Idyllwild Inn to be ready.
Idyllwild is what’s known on trail as a vortex. A place that sucks you in and doesn’t let you leave. If you ever have a chance, stop by Idyllwild. If I was ever going to build a mountain town from scratch it would end up pretty similar to Idyllwild.
Day 16 – 21: Idyllwild to Big Bear Lake
Miles 179.4 – 266.1
After zeroing in Idyllwild, I headed back to the trail. There were several paths back to the trail but the one that started where the fire closure reopened was the most difficult. It required hiking 6 miles up the mountain gaining more than 3k ft. in elevation and crossing an exposed snowy ridge with drops more than 2k ft. That would get you back on the PCT at Saddle Junction. Most hikers were skipping this as well but I wanted to hike as much of the PCT as possible. I’d hike 14 miles that day but only 7 on the PCT.
Surprisingly, I met Christine and Julia just after the traverse. I’d needed to stop by the post office that morning so they’d had a few hours head start but had taken a lunch break to dry their shoes. We’d hike together for most of the next week. I really enjoyed hiking with them and we worked really well together. My “Trail Family” is coming together nicely.
A couple notes to wrap things up:
- My right foot has gotten progressively worse. It wasn’t helped by trail running down the mountain in The San Jacinto Wilderness. Pushing myself, I made it from 8.9k elevation to 1.7k over 12 miles in 3 hours 45 minutes. It was stupid but it’s so difficult for me to hold back. I’ve never been able to exercise like this before. I want to see how hard I can push myself. My mental willpower is exceeding my physical ability. Not sure how to reign this in.
- I double zeroed at The Big Bear Hostel to let my ankle heal and will try out an ankle brace. “Sarge” runs the hostel and is the man!!!
- I’ll be trying to make it to Agua Dulce, Mile 454.4 in 10 days. That’s 188 miles or 19 miles/day with no zeroes.
- The San Jacinto Wilderness is gorgeous. I’ll be back someday to explore.
- There’s a zoo with “Hollywood” animals like lions, tigers, and bears in the mountains above Big Bear. Oh my, I’ll never see movie animals the same way. A 6′ x 8′ cage isn’t sufficient for these beautiful animals.
- Thermarest was supposed to send me a replacement pad to Big Bear Lake. They did not but say they’re sending it to Cajon Pass. I’ve now been without a working pad for 150 miles.
- My Arcteryx Altra backpack has failed. The swivel belt broke. I’ve replaced it with my old Osprey Atmos 65. It saves me 1 lb. In base weight.
- I’ve sent my iPad home.
- I gave Julia the trail name “Hungry” because she always says she’s hungry. “Hiker Hunger” is affecting all of us. We’re ALWAYS hungry.
- Trail name suggestions for me have been “Santa” because of the big red bag (no longer red, now big and green) and “Honey Badger,” well because… I’m yet to accept.
- Every night I die at camp. Every morning I’m reborn with Bambi legs. First steps are always the trickiest.
A few worthy pictures: